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Five Ways Mobile Is Changing the World

5G? Check. Virtual reality? Check. Ad blocking? Check.


This post is adapted from a keynote address delivered on Tuesday by Laura Desmond at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Mobile is about more than a device or platform. The combination of immediacy, personalization, scale and global reach mobile provides has democratized content, commerce and culture. It has given unlimited power to consumers who spend on average 11 hours per day on mobile devices.

Those who view mobile as simply an extension of their advertising program are wrong. Mobile is becoming core to all consumer-brand efforts, both in terms of time spent with these devices and because they are home base for search and social media and, increasingly, all things video.

MWC isn’t just for hardware manufacturers and tech guys anymore.

For marketers, mobile is our industry’s greatest opportunity and one of our biggest challenges. That’s why the number of marketers attending Mobile World Congress has steadily increased each year. MWC isn’t just for hardware manufacturers and tech guys anymore. It has become the place to be in order to see the trends and technologies shaping the world’s collective mobile future. And it’s way beyond advertising.

Here are the five most important trends for marketers to emerge from this year’s MWC:

5G takes hold: Based on a demo I saw, 5G is the Usain Bolt of mobile. The massive increase in network capacity makes downloads instantaneous and high-definition streaming lightning quick. The speed and convenience of 5G dovetails with the ever-increasing appetite for mobile video consumption among consumers. Emarketer reports that time spent watching video on mobile increased 30 percent in 2014, and that number is only going to rise. Marketers will have to create new content models to keep pace with consumer demand as 5G goes mainstream.

Virtual reality: Facebook and Samsung’s VR demo at MWC underscored the excitement around virtual reality. From Hollywood studios and mainstream media outlets to tech companies and venture capitalists, everyone is getting into the VR game. Technology research firm Juniper expects VR device sales of more than three million in 2016, growing from there to around 30 million units by 2020. Digi-Capital predicts VR technology will generate $30 billion of annual revenue by 2020. As VR grows from niche technology to mainstream platform, marketers will have to completely rethink creative delivery and production.

To block or not to block: There’s a reason why Adobe and PageFair found that people who use ad-blocking software grew 41 percent last year to 198 million active users worldwide: We aren’t giving them a quality mobile experience. At least that was the takeaway from panel sessions and water-cooler conversation at MWC. The growth in ad blocking on mobile devices is a gauntlet thrown at our industry to be more relevant. Sixty percent of consumers are open to ads that tell a story versus sell a product. Translation: Content that informs, can be shared or provides utility will be blocked less.

Connect content to commerce: Our research shows that one-third of consumers want more ability to make mobile payments. Samsung Pay, Visa Checkout and buy buttons on social media platforms are all about closing the gap between wanting and buying to a tap or swipe. Such convenience is one reason why mobile commerce is projected to increase 205 percent to $626 billion by 2018, according to Goldman Sachs. At MWC, much of the discussion centered on the implication for brands, e-tailers and retailers as biometric swiping and retina authentication take hold.

Software leaps ahead: As striking as the hardware was at MWC, it was clear that software is leaping ahead and becoming the true differentiator in mobility, in the broadest sense. This was evident most of all in the augmented reality and VR demos across the showroom floor. Powerful devices plus even more powerful software brings to people the utility and functionality they want. Marketers and agencies will need to worry less about messaging and more about the alchemy of creativity, context and technology when creating brand messages.

Mobile has empowered people beyond anything we have seen before — upending the rules that define consumer interaction by the second. Marketers are now faced with a choice to either lead or be left behind. To lead will require marketers, agencies and technology companies to work together to simplify the mobile experience by providing more sharing, more utility and more opportunity for consumers to benefit. It is a vision that can unite us, but it won’t happen until our industry fully stands behind it.

Laura Desmond is chief revenue officer of Publicis Groupe, one of the largest advertising holding companies in the world, and is responsible for helping marketers access the Groupe’s full range of communications and marketing technology solutions. She works with many of the world’s largest marketers, including Samsung, Bank of America and Visa, as well as technology brands such as Airbnb, Twitter and EA Sports. An often-quoted marketing expert, Desmond serves on the board of directors of Adobe Systems and The Ad Council. Before becoming CRO in January 2016, she was global CEO of Starcom Mediavest Group, the world’s largest media agency network. Reach her @LBDesmond.

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